The Living and the Lost is my first completed novel.
This is how it begins...
One can be scarred looking directly at the sun, even if only by accident, so that one will never see anything else, ever again.
The same can be said of the truth.
Such is the way of the world.
1. Gravity and Other Mysteries
The world isn’t moving. He’s right about that. The world isn’t moving at all.
The world is absolutely still, even as he senses its motion. Even as everything intends to move. The traffic on Market Street, rolling, yet perfectly still. The silence of life paused. The people, walking-not-walking, oblivious to their lack of progress. Birds held in the air like bubbles in an ice cube.
Hearts do not beat. Blood does not flow. The earth does not revolve around the sun.
Not right now.
Even he. Even Alec. Weightless. Tipping-not-tipping, falling-not-falling, absolutely still, confounded by it all.
This must be death.
The idea presents itself not as a sentence, evolving, but wholly formed. A certainty, as opposed to a realization.
Alec is falling, but he does not fall. He is tipped forward, the mass of his body well beyond any balance point for his feet to support, and yet he too is still. Motionless in the motion of falling.
There is a pain searing through his left shoulder; a bolt of pain, rifling through his shoulder from just under the shoulder blade at the back through the soft divot of flesh bordered by nipple and collar and cuff. It is fiercely intense, this pain, mostly because it will not go away; it will not fluctuate; it doesn’t pulse with his pulse, worsening, but then (even momentarily) dissipating; not even some. It is fierce and explosive, solidified and unrelenting at the height of its extravagance, as if his arm and entire shoulder is falling off, but without the courtesy to actually detach itself and fall.
He senses glass and splinters, and marble slick with dust, though he will forget that amid everything which is to come.
He sees me, again. He is aware, again, of seeing me.
He is aware of seeing me see him, and the world begins to move again, mercilessly.
Tipped forward, as we have said, weightless in this motionless moment, he is well beyond the reach of his balance and not at all ready for life as he knows it to resume. He has already come to believe in his own weightlessness.
And thus, weightless in a world sprung back to life, it seems to him that he does not fall. It seems, rather, that the earth, hinged at his useless, stumbling feet, launches itself upward, swings itself up at him as if suddenly released from a tightly bound trap, and the whole thing – the earth and all its cement – springs upward at him and crashes into his heady face.
He hears his brow thud and grind itself into the gristle of the pavement and he begins the process of dying thusly: his blood pressure plummets with the shock of the fall at the same time that panic forgets him how to breathe; he has witnessed the impossible and thus is confused about whether to inhale or exhale (the two have nothing to do with one another, but panic cares not for reason) and begins to asphyxiate himself; he loses the ability to focus on anything he sees as it all takes on an orangish monochrome hue and moves farther and farther away from him as if falling through a tunnel, yet neither falling up nor down; a white noise like that of rushing water deafens his hearing; he feels his body is freezing even as he feels his skin is aflame.
Asphyxiation setting in, his mind goes rummaging through memories looking for oxygen. Finding none, it begins the surreal and psychedelic process of closing up shop.
He is falling through a dizzying spiral stairwell of darkness and cold marble, racing his memories to the light and the street below.
He was a boy, once. And his parents loved him.
He was a boy, once, in a Catholic school in Baltimore, standing at the end of a long hallway. At the other end, across miles of polished tile floor, he sees the silhouette of the school’s principal, an enormous pear of a woman in nun’s habit. She delivers a walloping to the backside of some nameless young fool caught out in bad behavior. The sun streaks through a window beyond them, illuminating the hallway in glare but for the black shapes of animated punishment.
He is rapt in voyeurism. He is struck by a sense of vocation long before he has the words or understanding to describe such things. He is intoxicated by the act of seeing, of bearing witness.
He watches until the end, when the young villain is given a talking to, complete with wagging finger, all of it muted by distance. Then the child is sent back to his classroom and the principle turns and sees him, sees Alec, watching.
And the memory fades. And the darkness returns. And he continues his fall.
He was a boy, once, all grass stains and summer sweat, standing in his mother’s kitchen. How do things touch? he asks her. He holds his hand twelve inches above the the kitchen counter, then six inches, then three, then one-and-a-half, showing at each point another point half-way closer to contact. No matter the distance, a half-distance, forever. Close always closer but never closed.
“Outside with you,” she says, and swishes him out the back door with a wafting hand and an Irish lilt.
Life’s chapters unsequence.
He was a boy, often.
He was a man when Emma’s voice first called him like a siren.
He is lost in the city, lost in thought. Under a streetlamp he pauses to light a cigarette, cupping his hand over it to protect it from the rain threatening the air around him. And she, with her voice of purple silk, she asks him for a light.
He turns and is struck by her waiting stare and the redness of her closed lips and her poise. She says nothing more – she does not ask twice. He lights her cigarette just to hear her say thank you.
And the man behind her is familiar.
And of course they found each other, he and Emma. They have always found each other. They have but one soul between them.
The light is near. The fall almost complete. His legs race, fluttering beneath him, scurrying to keep between him and gravity.
One memory more.
He watched men die.
He sees the house – that great manor – its massive oaken doors, the lawn lushly green made greener by the steely grey light of a darkening sky. The long gravel drive, the hallway within, the smear of blood in the foyer. Carrion crows feed on the dead in the field before the mud reclaims the rotting flesh as its own. This is where death lives, he knows.
This is death.
His fall complete, he is rushed from that falling darkness into the crushing weight of all the light in the world and finds himself suffocating in brilliant blindness, drowning in light.
If he is to live, he knows, he must choose to breathe in. He must choose to open his lungs and fill them against the weight of all this light, against all the weight of all light of all of heaven and all of hell.
But it is warm. And he may not choose – choose not to choose – simply accept this suffocation and its comforting brilliance – and so choose to die.
The warmth of the light presses on him like the strange glow of hypothermia, soothing him, lulling him, inviting him. But for one thing.
This death, he knows, is not his own.
2. Something Like a Return to Something Like Normal
This story is told entirely in the first person.
You may want to remind yourself of this periodically. Perhaps you should dog-ear random pages throughout the rest of this book. Each time you arrive at such a page, with its upper left or right corner folded over, you will be reminded to recall this fact, that the story is told entirely in the first person. I assure you, you will forget it otherwise…